Where are we now?
Richard Renfro, Principal
Renfro Design Group, Inc.


In response to recent events raising questions around the visibility of the architectural lighting design industry, illumni + Monica Llamas asked some the world’s top lighting practitioners how they feel the industry is perceived today both by peers in the wider design community and the public and what needs to be done in future to progress the way lighting designers’ contributions to architecture, wellbeing, the environment and more can be better appreciated. The answers are very thought provoking. 

To what extent do you think architectural lighting design is understood as a profession and valued by our collaborative partner industries and the wider community today? (e.g. architects, clients, government, urban planners)

I believe architectural lighting design is not a widely understood or known profession. The collaborative partner industries have more awareness than 30 years ago but the potential value a lighting designer’s services bring to a project remains limited to a select number of building types and geographical areas.

How often do you find yourself educating new clients and design partners about the role of lighting designers and advocating the value of lighting design (e.g. scope of brief, timing of being brought into design conversations)?

We frequently find ourselves educating new clients about our role in the design process. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I have so enjoyed the repeat collaboration with a regular group of architects that have a knowledge and appreciation of light. We have mutual respect and a shared experience from previous projects which allows us to maximize our design efforts.

A year on from the introduction of the Certified Lighting Designer (CLD) certification, the world’s first, international, evidence-based certification in architectural lighting design, and 6 months since the UNESCO International Year of Light, during which the industry gained some spotlight, is it just a matter of time until the profession is better recognized for the specific skills we contribute to the design process?

I do not think that time alone will advance the recognition of our profession and the potential value a lighting designer can add to the success of the visual environment. There needs to be fundamental changes in the education of the larger design community (architects, landscape architects, interior designers, etc.) about the assumptions and expectations of the design team that they will one day lead.  As an architecture student in the late ‘70s, I do not recall the word “consultant” being mentioned or discussed.  My expectation was to be a “renaissance” architect and design every aspect of a building myself.  It was only by serendipitous events that I took a summer lighting design internship and discovered the specialization of architectural lighting.

There are some design schools now that not only offer specialized degrees in lighting but have architecture and lighting students working together.  I believe this is a very positive step towards a better understanding of the architectural lighting profession.

I do not think certification or licensed lighting designers will change people’s recognition of the profession.  It is the understanding of what makes a better visual environment resulting in people’s expectation for quality that will increase our professions recognition.

What steps could we take as an industry to further raise the profile and perceived value of lighting design among our key creative partners and the wider community?

I am not sure what the industry should do but there are some issues and perceptions that need to be addressed.

As long as most clients and codes evaluate lighting by watts and dollars, lighting professionals will not be seen as offering more value than basic lighting engineering services or those who sell light fixtures. More qualitative metrics need to be developed and required by the design community.

The Architectural profession still experiences the same recognition issues. Most of my projects come to me through an architect. I have spoken to architects that say they cannot hire a lighting designer for every project because of the competitive fees they must meet. Working with the architecture organizations to increase their relevance on a wider client base and range of projects would benefit the lighting community.  Hiring a lighting designer to reinforce the architect’s voice and help create an appropriate visual environment should not be a luxury.

Thank you: Richard Renfro, Renfro Design Group, Inc.

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